A new year brings new challenges for equality and diversity, and also on legal aid in the wake of the Scottish Government’s draft budget

Ringing in the New Year

A Happy New Year one and all! I hope 2016 is a successful and exciting year for you, your business and all your clients. I’d also like to give my heartfelt thanks to the hundreds of members and lay members who contribute to the work of your Law Society through membership of the board, the Council and our many committees and working parties. When I joined the Council in 2005 I was blown away by the sheer scale and diversity of the work carried out by our many willing volunteers. Thank you so much. I hope you know how appreciated you are.

I also extend a warm welcome and many congratulations to our new Lord President, Lord Carloway. The leadership team at the Society look forward to continuing the excellent working relationship which we have enjoyed with him during his years as the Lord Justice Clerk.

Back at the Society we are now settled in to our wonderful new home and focusing on our 2015-16 Annual Plan, the first year of our new five year strategy.

Gender balance

December brought the news that female solicitors now outnumber their male counterparts in Scotland. For the first time, 51% of practising solicitors are female and I have seen for myself, at the Society’s most recent Admission Ceremony in September, just how many young women are seeing their future in law – in fact, of all the solicitors admitted to the profession this year, 64% were female.

Although women outnumber men as newly admitted solicitors each year, they continue to be relatively underrepresented in senior positions, for example as partners in private practice. What is clear is that employers have to take notice of the increasing numbers of young, ambitious women choosing to enter the legal profession, and plan accordingly to avoid losing talented individuals from their business.

The lack of women in senior positions across the legal profession and other sectors is an issue of continuing debate, but there are many and complex reasons behind this, including availability of flexible working options, particularly in professions which can be very demanding on people’s time and energy, and personal choices made in balancing work and family life. The Society is committed to its ongoing equality and diversity work, and early this year will be releasing a series of guides for solicitors returning to work following a period of maternity, paternity or adoption leave.

Legal aid budget

In December I wrote to legal aid practitioners following the publication of the Scottish Government’s draft budget for 2016-17. This showed that the 2016-17 allocation for the legal aid fund has been set at £126.1 million, the lowest it has been for more than a decade, and a reduction from the 2015-16 budget of over 7% (from £136.1 million to £126.1 million).

The Society has been invited to discussions with the Scottish Government in January and we will certainly be taking up that offer to argue strongly in favour of investment in legal aid. We will also use our legal aid policy paper, published last year, which sets out a range of constructive suggestions to make the legal aid system simpler and more efficient.

Legal aid delivers a vital service up and down the country to people with legal issues and it can deliver life changing assistance to people in need. As I have said before, access to justice is important to all of us, and a key indicator of the rule of law. The Society will be in touch with details of how you can help us campaign in advance of the Scottish Parliament elections.

Last chance to get your smartcard

Over 7,000 members now have their smartcard, and along with it a secure digital signature, as well as a professional ID recognised across Europe. There are scheduled smartcard events being held across the country, including at the Society’s new office in Edinburgh, until the end of March and I encourage you all to get your smartcard as soon as you can. You can read more about the new office and how it will help to deliver our strategy in our article 'Team Building'.

The Author
Christine McLintock is President of the Law Society of Scotland – president@lawscot.org.uk; Twitter: @Christinemclint
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